Christmas is an important festival for Russian Orthodox Christians. It comes after the raucous of New Year celebrations and offers a more serene atmosphere.
On January 7, Russian Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar (13 days behind Gregorian calendar) observe Epiphany. This date is widely celebrated around the world by all Christian denominations.
Russian Orthodox church christmas has many distinctive customs and traditions that are relatively recent to Russian culture, while others are deeply-rooted in Russia’s longstanding traditions.
Some of the more widespread traditions on Christmas Eve include fortune telling, singing traditional carols (koliadki), and abstaining from food until the first star appears in the sky on Christmas Eve evening.
Children often go house to house singing Christmas carols and wishing the residents a joyous holiday. In return, they are usually presented with gifts such as cookies or candy.
Christmas in Russia is one of the biggest celebrations. As it’s a public holiday, most schools and businesses are closed on this day.
Christmas in Russia is marked by family and religious customs and traditions. On Christmas Eve, Russians fast from eating anything until the first star appears in the sky.
On New Year’s Eve, they practice fasting. Children usually hold hands and stand around their Christmas tree or New Year’s tree, calling out for ‘Grandfather Frost’ (known in Russia as ‘Ded Moroz’) and ‘Snegurochka’ to bring them presents.
After Christmas Day, children often go house to house singing holiday songs and wishing the residents of each home a joyous New Year. Upon leaving each home, they often receive treats or gifts from those they visit.
Music has a special place in Russian orthodox church Christmas celebrations. There are numerous traditional carols that tell the tale of this season’s festivities.
These songs range from artistic folk music to hymns that tell the Nativity story. Additionally, some offer poetic allusions to Scripture or other passages from the Gospel.
In the 1800s, Stepan Degtyarev composed Christ Is Born Today – an inspiring piece of music beloved among Russian Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike. This poignant song has become part of Christmas traditions across Russia.
This music stands out for its instrumentation, featuring an enormous English Horn solo as well as contrabass clarinet, bass sax and contrabassoon.
Food plays an integral role in Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrations, serving to bring people together and unite us in our joy.
On Christmas Eve, many Christians traditionally consume sochivo (also known as sochel’nik), a meal consisting of grains such as wheat, lentils, peas and barley mixed with nuts, seeds, honey or dried fruit. It is eaten after the church service to mark the conclusion of 40 days of fasting.
Another traditional food is kurnik – dough layered with fillings such as mushrooms or mashed potatoes. This dish can serve as an appetizer or light starter and should be served with a bowl of warm broth for added flavour.
In some villages, residents take part in a “kolyada,” an outdoor procession from house to house singing carols and receiving treats as they celebrate the festive season. Some rural families even make bonfires as part of a Slavic custom that symbolizes the return of the Sun and victory over darkness. Legend has it that spirits from ancestors visit these bonfires for warmth during this time.